One hundred eighty-seven breaths in ten minutes. Eva couldn’t stop herself from counting them. She’d been taking note of each inhale and every exhale since the phone call last week from her manager, Leo.
He’d only said one sentence. “You need to get tested babe.”
Eva had dreaded hearing those words since her very first adult film at the age of seventeen. But when Leo spoke the fear-inspiring words over the phone, Eva hadn’t panicked. Not then. She’d hung up the phone with Leo and called the clinic. The one that all the film stars used. The one that would keep her results private. The one that didn’t require insurance, because porn doesn’t pay benefits.
Although Eva hadn’t suddenly come undone in that moment, she’d started to unravel second by second – breath by breath. She’d started counting when it occurred to her that her days might be numbered. If she was HIV positive then was it full blown AIDS yet? And if it was full blown AIDS how many years did she have left? Or was it months?
Sheena, the clinic nurse, had called Eva to come in and receive her results, because they couldn’t be given over the phone. That was this time yesterday. Now, Eva was sitting in the clinic. Waiting…and breathing.
Eva breathed sixteen times in a minute when she was relaxed, but thirty when she was near hyper-ventilation. Would breathing faster make her time expire quicker? That thought occurred to her as she gripped the sides of the metal card table chair in the clinic’s waiting room. She could feel the moisture of her nervous sweat beneath her thighs, and wished that she’d worn a longer skirt. But Eva only wore skirts in the summer months. It was her favorite season, and skirts made her feel incredibly feminine.
Why couldn’t it be winter? Getting this kind of news is a gloomy, gray, downtown Cleveland January kind of thing. Not a mild Midwest summer thing. If Eva turned out to be HIV positive, summer wouldn’t be the same. She’d have to pick a new favorite season.
Eva stared at the clock in the clinic’s waiting room. It said ten past noon, but it was wrong. It was more like seventeen after according to Eva’s watch. Eva had to fight the urge to take the step stool out of the corner and correct the clock. If she was somewhere else – a friend’s house or her home – she wouldn’t have been able to let the small time discrepancy remain.
Amanda, known in the industry as Princess Mandy, had gone in right before Eva. They’d spoken to one another in the waiting area. It made sense for them both to be there; they’d both filmed an orgy scene four months ago. Eva remembered Amanda asking the film producer if they were using condoms. He’d said no. Amanda had protested; but not loudly enough. Her rent was due and she’d needed the money.
Eva hadn’t complained at all about using protection. They were all professionals on set. Everyone took their once a week test, so it was all good to her. Plus, her fans online told her that they didn’t like the safe sex scenes. They wanted edgy.
Did it really take this long to give a negative result? Eva’s nerves sent her into a near frenzy. She scooted to the edge of the chair; gripped it as if it was a roller coaster safety bar. Her breaths were fast and shallow, and tears streamed down her face as the feeling of inevitable doom engulfed her.
Eva prayed a sinner’s prayer. God, I know I don’t deserve to ask for anything from you. I don’t even know if I’m allowed to…well, I’m just gonna ask. God, please don’t let me have HIV. If I get a negative result…I-I promise, I’m gonna quit doing this and work a real job no matter how much it pays. And, uh, I’m gonna go to church too. Please, please, please, please…
Then, it dawned on Eva that the results were already there, in an envelope or on a chart, just waiting to be read. Her prayer and promise wouldn’t change the outcome – at least she didn’t think it could – but her grandmother was always shouting and dancing over a miracle. Maybe this would be one.
Amanda walked out of the results room. Her face was tear-streaked and pale. The test results were confidential, but to Eva it was more than obvious that Amanda hadn’t received good news.
“It was Alfonzo. I know he’s the one that gave us the package. We were both with him, and now we’ve got it.”
Eva was unable to respond. The lump in her throat wouldn’t allow her to speak. Amanda was right. They were both with Alfonzo that night. Although the evening was a drug and alcohol induced blur, she did remember him, because he was new to the group. It was his first scene.
“W-what are you going to do?”
“You mean other than die? I don’t really know. It’s not like I have a job anymore.” Amanda’s voice was void of emotion. Empty.
“They have drugs now, Mandy. It’s not a death sentence anymore, right?”
Eva’s words were more for herself than Amanda. She’d moved past her friend’s pain and started living inside her inevitable own.
“Call me later,” Amanda said. “We can go to Jamaica or something. Meet some hot guys and share the happiness and joy.”
When Eva gasped, Amanda threw up one hand. “I’m joking, Eva. I didn’t mean that.” Then she burst into tears. “I-I’m afraid.”
Eva didn’t know what should come next. Should she hug Amanda? Promise to contact her? She couldn’t do the former and wouldn’t do the latter. Hugging was not an Eva thing, and she never, ever contacted anyone from the industry in her real life.
The awkward moment passed, Amanda composed herself and wiped her tears with the crumpled up tissue in her hand.
“Maybe, I’ll wake up tomorrow and this will have been a nightmare.”
“If it is a bad dream, what would you do? Would you quit the business?”
Amanda lifted an eyebrow and then sighed. “I don’t know. What else am I gonna do?”
Sheena emerged from the results room with a solemn expression on her face. “Eva, I’m ready for you now.”
Eva stood on wobbly legs; Amanda helped her get her balance. Amanda pulled her close and whispers, “If you’re positive too…we could be there for each other, you know?”
One side of Eva’s mouth twitched. Amanda’s tone dripped with seductiveness. How could she be thinking of anything sexual at a time like this?
“Call me,” Amanda said, her hot breath feeling damp on Eva’s ear. Eva cringed. She didn’t mean to do it, but she did.
Amanda chuckled. “You can’t catch HIV from a whisper, silly.”
Eva walked, no stumbled, toward the nurse, loosing herself from Amanda’s grip.
“Right this way, Eva.”
Eva had been in the results room before; knew Sheena’s life story – how many kids she had, where she went to Nursing school. They’d had too many conversations, but none this serious.
There was the Chlamydia outbreak of 1995 when Eva had gotten burned on her very first film. Then, they shut an entire set down in Parma because of a hellacious round of Staph infections. Once, Eva contracted an E.Coli infection after putting something (she had no idea what) in her mouth that didn’t belong there.
Through all of these Eva had managed to remain relatively unscathed. She hadn’t come across anything that antibiotics couldn’t cure, not even Herpes. She had been luckier than most.
“Don’t beat around the bush, Sheena,” Eva said. “Don’t try to make it pretty. Just tell me.”
The relief that washed over Eva was so utterly complete that her tears flowed like faucets at full blast.
“I’m okay? I’m okay!”
Sheena cleared her throat. “I can’t clear you to work until you have two more negatives, spread over two months.”
“You can’t clear me to work? But I need the money.”
Sheena’s chest heaved up in down in a frustrated exhale. “How many bullets are you gonna dodge?”
Eva closed her eyes and shook her head. Sheena, of all people, knew what Eva was going through. Sheena had gotten into porn as a teenager, and worked until a group scene turned into a brutal rape that left her unable to have anymore children. After Sheena’s body had healed, she’d gone to college and hadn’t looked back.
“Everybody isn’t like you, Sheena.” Eva stared at the floor, embarrassed of her revelation. She wished she was more like Sheena.
“You know, Eva, you could always work a real job…no matter how much it pays.”
Eva’s head snapped up and her eyes widened as the words of her quickly forgotten prayer echoed from the walls. This was uncanny. This was unsettling.
“If you want, I can give you some numbers. I have some friends that will give you a job, no questions asked, if you’re ready to leave the industry.”
“What kind of job?”
“Something that doesn’t degrade you, or make you have to come talk to me in another six months for the next outbreak. You could leave the business while you’re still young enough to do something else.”
Eva shook her head and stood from the table. “I don’t know about the job thing, yet, but thank you Sheena, and thank God I’m not gonna die.”
“Go ahead and thank God, because He was the one that did this for you.”
“Why’d He do it for me, huh? Why not Amanda? I don’t even go to church and she does. She even goes in the middle of the week. Why would He save me?”
“He must have a purpose for you that you can’t fulfill if you’re sick.”
“That’s a joke. God don’t want nothing from me.”
Sheena smiled. “You can’t know what God wants until you ask Him.”
Then, Sheena came from behind her desk and hugged Eva before she could escape the office. Eva endured the unheralded affection, but didn’t participate by hugging back.
“Thanks again, Sheena. I gotta go now.”
“Take my card. Call me when you’re ready to change your life.”
Eva took the card from Sheena’s hand and read it. The top says No Longer Bound – Breaking the Shackles Women’s Ministry.
“You’re a minister?”
“No. I just help women who’ve lost their way.”
Eva said her goodbyes and saw herself out of the office into the balmy summer day. She turned the card over in her hand and then slipped it in her purse. She didn’t feel lost, but she had no idea what she should do with herself. After Sheena regurgitated that piece of her prayer, she was scared to ask God anything else. If he answered her directly, she’d probably just pass out in the street.
But now that Eva knew He was listening, she did have a few things and a few people that she wanted to discuss with God.
In her opinion, God had some explaining to do.
Isn’t it weird how the very best things can happen to you at the very worst times? I just got off the phone with an editor at Gideon Publishing. Her name is Carmen and she wants to give me a book deal. It’s for my second book, a fiction version of the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. I never sold the first one that I wrote which is probably a good thing, because there was too much of my own life in its pages.
My second book called The Chance Meeting only took me a year to write, but it took another year for me to get replies back from my query letters. Now, finally, eight years into my publishing journey I’m being offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
It is the best thing that could happen in my life, but I hate that it’s happening when Troy is at absolute rock bottom with his music thing. He’s lost nearly every penny of the three and a half million dollars he earned after discovering a powerhouse vocalist named Lisa with an incredible voice.
“Hey babe, Logan is coming over in a few. Are you gonna cook something?”
Troy’s voice pulls me from my thoughts, and I gaze directly into my husband’s ruggedly handsome face. That very appealing face, those incredibly sexy light brown eyes, and his undeniable swagger have caused me to postpone every single last one of my dreams while he pursued his music career.
Not anymore. I feel God moving me in a different direction, one that doesn’t include feeding his friends. I’ve got to write a proposal for my next book. Carmen wants to offer me a two-book deal, but I’ve not given any thought to another project.
“I think you should cook something, or order out,” I say.
He blinks as if blinking will help him hear me better. “Come on, Pam. This is important. He’s going to collaborate with me on some music. He’s really well connected, and I think he can help get Aria’s project off the ground.”
I roll my eyes. I should’ve stopped myself from doing that, because it makes me seem like an unsupportive wife. But, I’ve been hearing that singing harlot’s name for the past eight years.
Aria is Troy’s big project. He’s spent almost a decade trying to blow up with this girl. She’s in my home so much she might as well be my sister-wife, except I can’t ever see that chick lifting one of those acrylic nailed-fingers to do a dish or a load of laundry.
I shake my head and the negative thoughts about Aria. “No, Troy. I can’t do it tonight. I’ve got something really important to do, and then I have to go to a Sister to Sister meeting.”
“What can you possibly have to do that’s more important than handle my business? Your job is to take care of home. Me and the kids, Pam. You been chilling for the past eight years, so the least you could do is be hospitable when I have guests.”
I know he did not just diminish everything I’ve done in the past eight years to “chilling”. I didn’t know raising three children was chilling. I didn’t know that the upkeep of a five thousand square foot house was chilling. If I was chilling, then what was he doing for all the years before he made the millions? Sounds like if I am in chill mode (which I am not), then it’s my turn.
Besides, Troy knows dang well that if something doesn’t give in the next six months, then I definitely am going to have to go back into the corporate workforce. He hasn’t even asked me about my writing career – not since he bought me a journal when I was pregnant with our son TJ. I’m starting to wonder if he even meant anything he said about supporting my dreams.
I close my eyes and sigh. “What do you want me to make, Troy?”
“I can make some wings and salad mom. Do you want me to?”
That is my surprisingly capable fourteen year old Gretchen. She’s been obsessed with cooking since the age of ten, and she can probably cook a better meal than I could. A month ago, I let her handle Easter dinner, with me supervising, of course, and she really did a wonderful job.
“I’ll give you an extra ten in your allowance if you do, honey. I sure appreciate you,” I say and give Gretchen a kiss on the cheek. Then, I give Troy a dry peck. “Gotta go.”
“Your Sister to Sister meeting is not until seven. It’s only five o’clock. What are you doing between now and then?” Troy asks.
I was wondering when he’d ask what I had to do. I almost thought he wouldn’t. Troy barely notices anything that doesn’t impact him directly.
“A publisher offered me a book deal, but I have to come up with a proposal for my second book.”
Troy’s eyes widen, and he hugs me tightly. “That is great Pam! When were you going to tell me?”
When you stopped making requests. “I wanted to make sure I’d be able to come up with a second book proposal.”
“That’s shouldn’t be a problem. All that gossiping y’all do at those women’s meetings, you ought to have plenty of story ideas.”
“I’m not going to write about my friends.”
Troy shakes his head. “I don’t know why not. They would if they had the opportunity. How much money is the publisher offering you?”
“Um, she said $7000 for two books.”
Troy frowns and scratches the back of his head. “Is that all? I thought publishers were handing out six figure deals and whatnot. That’s what we talked about when you were sending out all those letters.”
“I did some research, and what they offered me is pretty standard for a brand new author.”
“So, when do you get the money?”
“I-I’m not sure.”
“You’re not sure? Pam, if you don’t know the right questions to ask these people, you need to put me on the phone.”
“I’m sure I have to sign a contract first.”
“Well we could sure use those thousands, Pam. We’re getting low on funds, just so you know.”
I lift an eyebrow and fold my arms across my chest. “How low?”
“We’ve got about two hundred thousand left, but it won’t last long if we don’t get some additional funds up in here.”
See, this is exactly what I’m talking about with him. I’m sick of Troy living from one gig to the next. We’ve got about two hundred thousand dollars left out of the three point five million. That’s barely enough to get us through another one of Troy’s ventures.
First there was the Aria record project. He finished that one, and sold about twenty-two copies. Okay, it was more like ten thousand. But he spent more money marketing and creating that record than he earned in profits.
Then, there was the Aria tour. I guess Troy thought since he had all those CDs stacked in the garage that they should probably go on the road and try to sell them. Yeah, that wasn’t such a good idea either. The concerts – mostly in shopping malls and hole-in-the-wall clubs – didn’t move many records. Just money from the assets to the liability column of our family balance sheet.
Finally, there was the Aria video shoot. Get the pattern here? The singing harlot and her career has sucked our blessing dry.
“And by additional funds, you mean the money from the book?”
“That and some more. I was wondering if you’d mind getting a part time job, just until we get done with this project.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“No, I’m not. I mean, it’s not like I’m really marketable in Corporate America, and you know I can’t do no factory work. You were a VP at Ellis Financial. They’d give you something.”
Anger simmers in the pit of my stomach, like a tea kettle full of near-boiling water. Troy told me I’d never have to go to work again. That I could take care of our family and that he’d take care of me.
“I’ve been out of the workforce for eight years, Troy. It won’t be easy for me to get a job, either. Plus, I’d like to see where my book career could go.”
“Both of us can’t be starving artists.”
“You’re right, Troy. One of us has to be responsible.”
Troy touches my arm lovingly, but I snatch it away. “Pam, baby, it’s only for awhile. Just until Aria’s new record takes flight.”
“Don’t you think you should find a new artist? You’ve been trying with Aria for years, and she’s not a young twenty year old anymore. I think her time has passed, and you need to move on.”
“You always want to give up before we break through.”
“That’s the problem, Troy. There’s no we in this conversation. It has always been about you.”
“You’d think that after all these years with me you would’ve learned something about teamwork.”
Teamwork? Teamwork! I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Troy is on a team all right. Only I’m not on it too. Aria is his partner, and has been for eight years.
The teapot is on full boil now, and the whistle is ready to blow.
Then the doorbell rings. Troy looks as if he wants to say something else to me before opening it, but then he gives me a soft look and turns the knob.
“Logan! Man, it’s about time!” Troy exclaims as he gives Logan a one-armed hug and fist bump.
“What do you mean? I’m early,” Logan says.
“No, man, I mean where have you been my whole life? It’s time to get this thang popping.”
I suppress the urge to cringe at Troy’s slang. He keeps forgetting that we’re almost forty years old, and that it sounds a lot better for grown-ups to use standard English.
“Man, God’s timing is always perfect. This is our time!”
Then, Logan looks at me. “You must be Pam. You look exactly how Troy describes you.”
In my opinion, there’s nothing more handsome on a man than a smile, and Logan’s smile is contagious. I can’t help but give him one in return. His pretty white teeth seem to gleam in contrast to his blackberry tinted lips and ebony skin. I can’t believe he’s standing here in our living room. He could be on a movie screen.
“Nice to meet you, Logan. Troy speaks highly of you,” I finally say as I shake Logan’s outstretched hand.
“This is my wife, the writer,” Troy says. “Doesn’t she look like a writer?”
Logan chuckles. “Sure, she does.”
“Yeah, well, she needs to write some song lyrics or something, ‘cause that’s how we’re gonna get to stack the dough. Nobody black is about to get rich off writing books.”
“I only know music, not books,” Logan says. “And this sounds like a discussion I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.”
“Troy doesn’t know either,” I say hoping Troy can hear the venom in my voice.
I spin on one heel and grab my purse. I storm out of the house knowing that this isn’t over. As a matter of fact, it’s only just beginning, because if Troy thinks he’s going to throw my dream away like it belongs to him, he’s got another think coming. This dream is mine and God opened a door that no man can shut. Especially Troy.